Jaki Byard

The Entertainer

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Jaki Byard was often described by jazz critics as an eclectic player. This 1972 studio session (made for Victor in Japan) does little to dissuade that opinion, with music ranging from ragtime, to classic jazz, standards, and pop fluff of the 1970s, along with the pianist's creative originals. But he was a bit of a musical chameleon, willing to explore and find a hidden facet in almost any song he played. "My Man's Gone Now," one of many standards written for "Porgy and Bess," is an introspective performance that packs a powerful punch, with Byard's dazzling right-hand runs and richly textured chords. He attacks Jelly Roll Morton's "Chicago Breakdown" with thunderous chords at times in the lower end of the keyboard, but he's clearly enjoying himself with a rollicking interpretation of Morton's decades' old show piece. Scott Joplin's famous rag "The Entertainer" is revamped into a worthwhile stride vehicle with a typically jaunty Byard arrangement. His treatment of John Lewis' gorgeous "Django" is masterful, putting his stamp on it while not overly straying from its theme. Byard's treatment of the usually lame "(They Long to Be) Close to You," a piece forever ingrained with the Carpenters' hit record, isn't what one would expect. Instead of hamming it up, he starts slowly, gradually emphasizing his striding right hand, with a few elaborate runs as embellishment. "Something's Gotta Give" is a bit of an obscurity, but Byard's dazzling interpretation makes one want to check it out in its original form.

Also worthy of consideration are Byard's compositions. "Blues for Smoke's Brother" is a strutting performance that would bring down any house, mixing boogie-woogie and stride. "Tony" is essentially a ballad, though it has moments that show Byard's flashy side.

Consider yourself very lucky if you run across this extremely hard-to-find Japanese LP.